In tough times, I turn to Trek.
I was about 12 when I watched the DS9 episode Far Beyond The Stars and saw Avery Brooks as Benny Russell. Benny has been with me ever since, and the scene below (directed by Avery Brooks) is one of the most important Trek has ever made.
I realize exactly how privileged it is to have gotten an impactful lesson in abject racism from Star Trek rather than a lived experience.
Benny is fictitious. George Floyd, Trayvon Martin, and so many more are not. Each time it happens, my mind goes back to Benny, how he felt, and how his coworkers were outraged but mostly inert.
Twelve year old me – not having any idea about the pervasiveness of racism – watched the whole episode in rapt attention – as Benny Russell is beaten by the same police that had just murdered his friend Jimmy (who was also Jake Sisko, his son in DS9) for trying to pawn a watch.
Benny is told his issue of the magazine was not going to be run, that he was fired, because he had the audacity to submit a story about a black hero (Captain Sisko), and his editor tells him: “It’s not about what’s right, it’s about what is.” His boss can’t even look him in the eye as he fires him.
And all the outrage of his helpless coworkers is just window dressing to a masterful Avery Brooks as Benny Russell highlighting for everyone present – his friends, his boss, the viewers – the injustice of the systemic disenfranchisement of black people.
Nobody, in that moment, can do a damn thing about the frustration of a lifetime of oppression. “I am a human being, damnit,” he sobs.
If you’ve never seen it, here’s your chance:
We need to do the work to connect the dots from where we are to a better version of humanity like Star Trek, where the hideous realities of both hidden and overt systemic racism aren’t so commonplace.
The wrong reaction is clear, because Avery Brooks showed us. Well-intentioned outrage, feeling helpless, standing on the sidelines stunned while people in your community are day-in-and-day-out trodden on. Opportunities for correction, improvement, however small – lost.
We can, and must, do the work to get there.